Narrative Lectionary Text: Matthew 2:13-23 The Flight to Egypt
Happy New Year, everybody. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve been eating non-stop since Thanksgiving. Anybody else?
The new year always brings mixed emotions for me. It is that time when we tend to look in two directions at the same time. We look back to the past year and remember, and we look forward to the new year and wonder. It’s a time, at least for me, when my emotions are really raw, because, when I reflect on the past year I remember all the good things that happened and I get happy, but then I think about all the difficult and painful things that happen and I get sad. Then I think about how my kids are getting older and I get a little nostalgic. Deep sigh.
Then, when I turn around and look at this thing called 2015, I’m filled with a whole new set of emotions. I’m excited, but, honestly, I’m scared. What will this year look like? I’m finishing my degree this spring. We are looking to hire a new youth director in the summer. Things are changing, and it can be a little unsettling.
The big question for today is this. How do you move forward when life seems so uncertain?
I want to look at two characters from this story that will help us address this question.
The first one doesn’t actually appear in the story, but is the author of the story. I want to look at Matthew, the guy who wrote this Gospel. We are going to spend the next couple months reading through Matthew and, whenever you begin the study of a new book of the Bible, it is important to know a little bit about the author and why the book was written.
Then I want to look at Joseph, because he was responsible to take care of Mary and this young child named Jesus, and the future was pretty scary for him.
First, let’s learn a little bit about Matthew.
Turn to Matthew 9:9. I have a feeling this passage was the story that framed Matthew’s life. It says,
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Matthew had a past and was able to move forward because he knew the Jesus loved him, no matter what other people thought about him.
Matthew was a tax collector. It is easy for to look at that and thing, “bummer job, dude.” Right? No body really likes taxes, but we know we have to pay them if we want to have things like roads and schools, and parks. So we tend to think of Matthew as the IRS agent.
That’s not it at all.
The closest thing in our society that I can think of to help us understand how the Jewish people thought of Matthew might be this guy. The mafia debt collector. You know how it works. The mafia comes in and forces businesses to pay them protection money, then, if the business refuses they send in the collector to threaten them with violence in order to get them to pay.
That’s what tax collectors were like in those days. The Roman Empire had imposed a tax on the Jewish people, and they resented it deeply. Then, the Empire commissioned Jewish men to collect the tax from their brothers and sisters, with whatever means were necessary. These guys had the freedom to come up to you and charge you whatever they wanted as you were traveling on the road. It was Government sanctioned highway robbery.
That’s who Matthew was when Jesus walked up to him that day. Then Jesus hung out with him and other tax collectors.
The religious leaders were upset with Jesus. I think the next words that Jesus spoke became Matthew’s life verse.
12 But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
How was Matthew able to move forward in life, after the pain and regret of all the suffering he had caused others? He knew that Jesus loved him, had forgiven him, and had set him free to become and new man.
We must always keep that in mind as we read this Gospel. Matthew is writing about how Jesus offers to us a completely new way to live our lives. And that brings hope.
The second character I want to look at is Joseph. He had every reason to look at his past and think there is no way he can move into the future.
First, he was from Nazareth.
Nazareth was a town that nobody in Judah liked. It was definitely the wrong side of the tracks. So, he had that stigma.
Second, he was the object of gossip and scorn.
We often forget this part of the story, but Mary was considered a tramp by the people of Nazareth. I mean, you can’t get more despised than that, when the people of the town nobody likes thinks you are a loser. She got pregnant while she was engaged to Joseph and blamed it on God. Yeah, like people are going to believe that story.
What was Joseph supposed to do? He wanted to leave her, but God promised him that Mary was telling the truth. Joseph was invited to trust God, against all odds. So, he stood with her and took the shame.
Here’s where our story picks up today. The wise men had just left the house in Bethlehem. Jesus is somewhere between one and two years old at this point.
By the way, have you ever wondered why Joseph was still in Bethlehem after a year?
Did it really take that long to do the census? I have a theory. I think Joseph and Mary decided to stay there so that they could get away from the scandal of Nazareth and start fresh. It’s just a theory.
The wise men had left them gold and expensive spices. That was pretty cool.
Just when things started looking good, they took a horrifying turn.
King Herod flies into a jealous rage. The thought that a child could be alive that would someday take his throne was unthinkable. He had to destroy that child. So, Herod does the unthinkable. He orders that every child under the age of two in the Bethlehem area be killed.
I cannot even imagine that horrific day when Herod’s soldiers ripped through town, tearing children from their mother’s arms and killing them right in front of their eyes.
Of course this is not the first time a story like this has been told.
Do you remember the first time this happened? Way back in Exodus the angry King of Egypt ordered that every Hebrew boy under the age of two was to be thrown in the Nile river and drowned.
God spared a child in that story. Moses was placed in the basket, was spared, and grew up to deliver his people from slavery in Egypt.
Matthew tells us that this was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet,
“Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
Here’s the real point Matthew is trying to make.
There is a new Moses.
Here’s the tragic irony of the story. This time it isn’t the evil king of Egypt that threatens the Hebrew people, it is the Hebrew King himself that has become a new kind of Egypt that has the people enslaved once again.
So, Joseph is told by the angel to flee for his life to Egypt.
When the coast was clear he wanted to go back to Jerusalem, but Archelaus was even scarier than his father. Joseph was forced to go back to Jerusalem where everyone knew his secrets, and he carried the scorn.
How was Joseph able to move forward?
He had every reason to think this could never work. But, there is one thing that allowed him to move forward into the future: The promise of God.
As we move into this new study of Matthew we look in two directions.
First, we look back to the promise of God. You are blessed to be a blessing. Then, we look forward to the promise of God that God will make all things new.
The faithfulness of God in the past, and the promise of God’s future shapes our present.
Today, it doesn’t matter what happened in 2014.
God’s mercy is new every morning. There is always a fresh start. Matthew was a tax collector in the past, but now he is a disciple of Jesus. He was able to leave his disgrace behind him and start fresh. Joseph, moved into the future with the disgrace hanging around him, and he was able to rise above it, because he believed that he was doing what God had asked him to do.
This year, I invite you to engage in this journey through the Gospel of Matthew as we remember God’s promise that we are blessed to be a blessing. This study will show us how Jesus made it clear what God’s blessing is all about and how to live in it.